By Robert Anderson
"IT was the main purpose of the then rulers of the Church to put prominently forward the supremacy of the Bible."
These words are quoted from the Archbishops' decision in the famous Incense case; and they indicate the chief aim of the leaders of the Reformation in England. For the Reformation was not merely a revival, it was a revolt. And ecclesiastical supremacy was the bondage from which those brave and noble men delivered us.
That Church which is the vital unity of the Body of Christ Rome confounds with the visible Church on earth - the public organisation entrusted to human administration. But more than this, the Church on earth, which, according to Scripture, is the congregation of the faithful, the Romish system represents as an authority established to govern the faithful, with power to control not only their acts but their beliefs.
The following words of Cardinal Newman will afford an admirable text for the discussion of the question here at issue. With reference to the dogma of Transubstantiation, he writes: "I had no difficulty in believing it as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation." Transubstantiation, the Reformers maintain, "overthroweth the nature of a sacrament."' Simple and clear though this statement be, people fail to grasp its meaning. A sacrament is merely a sign or symbol to represent some spiritual reality. In the Eucharist, for example, the bread is bread and nothing more, but it represents the Lord's body. If therefore the bread be regarded as being in fact His body, it is no longer a "sacrament" at all. But let us analyse Cardinal Newman's words. Why should we believe that a piece of bread is flesh, seeing that, judged by every possible test, it is not flesh but only bread? The Roman Catholic replies that we should believe it on the authority of the Church, for the Church is the oracle of God. But why, we demand again, should we believe the Church to be the oracle of God? We should believe it, the Roman Catholic tells us, because the Church is thus accredited by Holy Scripture. Is it not then our plain duty to test this claim by referring to the Scripture? "Certainly not," is the emphatic rejoinder; "that is Protestant heresy of the worst kind. For the Church is the oracle of God, and therefore the authoritative exponent of Scripture; and instead of using our own judgment or reason, we must accept the Church's teaching on the subject." To the enlightened this may be the highest wisdom; but to the benighted Protestant it bears a sinister resemblance to the artifice which, in another sphere, the vulgar describe as "ringing the changes."
"Why, even of yourselves, judge ye not what is right?" the Lord demanded of the unbelieving Jews. But while faith is the highest exercise of reason, Newman's position is the complete abnegation of reason. "Come now, and let us reason together," was the Divine appeal to His people in the old time, even in days of apostasy. And coupled with that appeal was the Divine lament, "My people doth not consider." and the word is emphatic and significant. It means using their intelligence, and thinking for themselves, instead of blindly following their reigious leaders, or in other words "obeying the voice of the Church."
That the Church is "the oracle of God" is a figment unsupported by evidence and disproved by facts. But no matter how able and pious a man may be, if he stultifies his reason by accepting it, he has "no difficulty in believing" that a piece of bread is the flesh of the Lord of Glory. In the same way he would have "no difficulty in believing" that this earth is not a planet but a fixed plane and the centre of the solar system; that the drivel contained in some parts of the Apocrypha was divinely inspired; and that the tortures of the Inquisition and the fires of Smithfield were divinely sanctioned and blessed! Superstition such as this explains the advice which Pascal gave to those who found a difficulty in accepting the dogmas of the Church. Take to religion, he said in effect, "for that will make you stupid and enable you to believe."
(Footnote - He is dealing with the difficulties of people who say they cannot believe, and he urges them to act as if they believed, using the ordinances, holy water, masses, &c. &c., and he adds:
"Naturellement meme cela vous fera croire et vous abetira." The passage is given by Matthew Arnold in the preface to God and The Bible. No wonder that Pascal's Port Royal editors suppressed words so cruelly cynical, though so true. For while Christianity elevates or ennobles the whole being, human religion seems to make men either fools or fiends.
It is important to notice, first, that the Church for which this monstrous claim is made is not "the Catholic Church of undivided Christendom," but that section of it called the "Catholic Roman Church"; and secondly that the claim is not based on a history marked by purity of faith and morals such as might be deemed proof of divine calling and favour. Any appeal to considerations of that kind would be fatal; and Rome discreetly founds its claims upon the figment of "Apostolic succession." This was made emphatically clear by the Papal Bull of September, 1896. Exposing the duplicity and ignorance of the Anglican Romanisers,. who sought Papal recognition of Anglican Orders, that Bull declared : - - - "A new rite was publicly introduced under Edward VI.; the true Sacrament of Orders, as introduced by Christ, lapsed, and with it the hierarchical succession."
While the Anglican conspirators sought to ignore the Reformation, the Pope of Rome thus insisted on its importance. To quote Cardinal Vaughan, "They have persuaded themselves that their clergy are really sacerdotal ; - that they possess sacrificing powers, and that they hold direct continuity from the old Catholic Church of England, as founded by St. Augustine." A "strange and almost incomprehensible belief," he justly calls it, for a main object with the Reformers was to break that continuity of guilt, and to set the national Church upon a basis only and altogether divine.'
(Footnote - I am reminded of one of my visits to the Cardinal. It was in connection with an unpleasant Police case. I gave him certain facts which led me to believe that one of his priests was a thoroughly evil man. He listened with an incredulous air, and then, opening the " Clergy List," he showed me that the delinquent was a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England. My apology for troubling him was, that the man called himself a Catholic priest, and my officers never doubted that he was a Roman Catholic. To which the Cardinal replied, "My dear Mr. Anderson, these men call themselves Catholic priests, but they are double - dyed Protestants!")
And what was the action of the English Archbishops in this matter? Instead of seizing the opportunity to reaffirm the principles of the Reformation, they openly took sides with the conspirators. Their "letter" of 19th February, 1897, was in effect an appeal to their "venerable brother Pope Leo XIII." to acknowledge that the Clergy of the Church of England were sacrificing priests and that they ought to be recognised as such by Rome. Did the Prelates never stand by the Martyrs' Memorial at Oxford? Or were they so blinded by the superstitions to which they thus pandered that they failed to realise that Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer, who were there burned to death, stood for the Chuzch of England, or rather for the truth of God, and that the guilt of that hideous crime rests upon the apostate Church with which they thus basely sought to ally themselves? Was there ever a more shameful betrayal of the National Church!
In the days of Pagan Rome the Church was on the side of the martyrs. But under Papal Rome the martyrs were the victims of "the Church." The Reformers of the sixteenth century were the proscribed antagonists of the religion of Christendom. The struggle for the truth, and for the liberty which we owe to the maintenance of the truth, was waged by men who dared to stand out against "the Church," denouncing its errors and defying its power. But in these strange days of ours, the great question which till lately we supposed the Reformation had settled for ever, is again reopened in all kinds of insidious ways. And a superstitious and false view of "the Church" is the main cause of our troubles. According to the Reformers "the visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure word of God is preached." But, according to Rome, the Church is, as already noticed, an institution set up to lord it over the "congregation of faithful men," and to mediate between them and God. Such a conception of the Church is essentially anti-Christian; and even if the Historic Church of Christendom had been always pure, and true to its high ideals, it would be none the less an outrage upon Christians and Christian truth.
But there are many who, though they have no sympathy with Rome, consider that the work of the Reformation was marred by fanatical excess. The Reformers, they would tell us, ought to have been content to fall back upon "the Primitive Church of the Fathers." But those great men acted with full knowledge of facts and truths which are now forgotten or ignored. They knew that the much vaunted Church of the Fathers was tainted with the errors and evils which were afterwards developed in the Romish system.
While at Scotland Yard I watched the excavations for the building which has been erected on the then vacant ground across the way. The removal of a deep layer of river mud, permeated by the foul refuse of centuries, disclosed a rich bed of sand which had been thrown up by the sea in an earlier age. That sand was pure and wholesome in comparison with the filth which had been heaped upon it. But it was cleared away, and the foundations of the new building were laid on the rock which lay beneath. This parable needs no interpreting. The Reformers knew well what they were about when they refused to build even upon "the Primitive Church of undivided Christendom," and insisted on going back to Apostolic times, and laying their foundations deep and firm on the bedrock of Holy Scripture.
In his exposition of the parable of Matthew xli. 43 - 45, Dean Alford, after explaining its primary reference to the Jewish people, goes on to notice its application to "the Christian Church." Here are his words: "Strikingly parallel with this runs the history of the Christian Church. Not long after the Apostolic times, the golden calves of idolatry were set up by the Church of Rome. What the effect of the captivity was to the Jews, that of the Reformation has been to Christendom. The first evil spirit has been cast out. But by the growth of hypocrisy, secularity and rationalism, the house has become empty, swept and garnished: swept and garnished by the decencies of civilisation and discoveries of secular knowledge, but empty of living and earnest faith. And he must read prophecy but ill who does not see under all these seeming improvements the preparation for the final development of the man of sin, the great repossession, when idolatry and the seven [morewicked spirits] shall bring the outward frame of so-called Christendom to a fearful end."
These words have no reference to the Church regarded as the Body of Christ, the vital unity.Between the Bible and the Church in this its firstand highest aspect, there can be no conflict, no antithesis. The Lord's promise is eternal, "I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Dean Alford's words refer to the Professing Church on earth, "the outward frame" entrusted to the care of men.And keeping this clearly in view - we shall recognise that the Church on earth has apostatised from the place divinely given to it, and has utterly failed to fulfil its mission. And justifying the conduct and attitude of the Reformers, we shall avoid the superstitions and errors from which they sought to deliver us.To defend their acts and words is my mainpurpose in these pages. And my method will be to give plain facts and clear testimony for theconsideration of the thoughtful. "Muck-rake" work in the filth of pre-Reformation times is not sufficient. It is necessary to go farther back,and by an appeal to the writings of the Fathers themselves, to throw light upon the condition of the "Primitive Church."
But all this suggests a preliminary inquiry.The history of all ages and of every land gives proof that in the sphere of religion man always drifts away from God. What explanation can be offered of this strange and sinister law of gravitation in the spiritual sphere? The following investigation of the problem is conducted on new lines. And it is here placed first, because the solution of it will prepare the way for all that follows.